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India bans police from making arrests over Facebook posts

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal says such arrests are "an abuse" of the law, but does not want to change the controversial law itself.


Kevin Collier


Posted on Nov 30, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 6:21 am CDT

In the wake of Indian police officers cracking down on young people who insult public figures on Facebook—a criminal act, given a vaguely-written law—the country will soon ban lower-level cops from arresting people for social media activity.

Communications minister Kapil Sibal said Thursday that the recent crackdown on Facebook comments, which includes arresting a young woman for complaining about a politician’s funeral, arresting another for liking that status, and detaining a student for allegedly saying mean things about that politician’s nephew, “are certainly an abuse of the law.”

Instead, Sibal said, officers will need to get approval from senior officials before arresting anyone solely for comments they make on social media.

Those girls’ arrests came with considerable backlash: It gathered international criticism, the magistrate who sentenced them was transferred, and two top police officials were suspended.

Sibal’s comments seemed aimed to combat those who criticize politicians and legal scholars who have called to change Section 66A of the country’s Information Technology Act, which makes it illegal to, among other things, “abuse” another person online. “Let us now wait for another four to six months; let us wait to see if the process is adequate,” Sibal added.

But that’s not enough for Sibal’s critics, of which there are many, particularly among Internet freedom proponents in India. Anonymous India hacked his official website Thursday. It has since been restored, but for a time, the site read, in part:

All this hue and cry over 66A should have happened long time ago, but it didn’t. Its happening now because in succession various bizarre cases like the girls’ arrest have come to light [….] But the true intention of the law was not to stop individual FB Posts and tweets. It was to curb the Blogs and online media. And they will silently keep trying to control them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these events have inspired one tweeter to start a 66A parody account.

“Sometimes I think 66a is just a HUGE dislike button,” @Section66A tweeted Friday.

Photo via Kapil Sibal is an idiot/Facebook

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*First Published: Nov 30, 2012, 3:50 pm CST